Owens says state’s Supreme Court will not wait until after primary elections in September to issue decision on sensitive topic
WASHINGTON Supreme Court Justice Susan Owens said this week she believes the court’s long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban will be issued before this September’s primary, contrary to speculation that the justices would hold off because of the topic’s sensitivity.
“We have never held cases. I resent when people say that,” Owens told The Associated Press following a forum for Supreme Court candidates. “It’s not going to be very long. We’re at the point now where I can say that.”
The state Supreme Court heard arguments in March 2005 on 19 gay couples’ challenge to the state’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage. Two lower courts have said the ban is unconstitutional, but marriage rights have been on hold pending the court’s decision.
Many people have speculated recently about when the court would rule. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander told reporters in January that he hoped the court would be able to issue its opinion during the 2006 Legislature, but lawmakers adjourned in March. He declined to comment Wednesday.
In early June, Gov. Chris Gregoire reflected a widely held opinion when she guessed the ruling wouldn’t come before the November elections.
“I’ve been through how many Thursdays now?” Gregoire asked reporters, referring to the day the Supreme Court publishes its rulings. “I don’t think it’s coming before the election.”
The primary is scheduled for Sept. 19. Owens said she could not say with any more specificity when the ruling would come. As of Wednesday, the court had not listed any rulings to be issued Thursday.
Jamie Pedersen, a lawyer representing the gay couples in the case, said he doesn’t fall into the camp of those who believed the court might delay the opinion for political reasons, and that he appreciates the care the court appears to be taking with the ruling. As a former law clerk, he said he knows how complex opinion-writing can be.
“Anytime somebody changes something in one opinion, the others get a chance to change what’s in their opinions,” he said.
“They’ll issue the decision when they’re done writing it.”
That said, he’s eager to see the result.
“Obviously, we have all of our plaintiff couples and thousands of others in the state who live every day without the benefit of legal protection,” he said. “The sooner we get the ruling the better.”
Representatives of Families Northwest and the Christian Coalition, which oppose gay marriage, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Owens is up for re-election this year. She is being challenged by Republican state Sen. Steve Johnson of Kent.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 21, 2006.